An act of social engineering*

(*or how to get everyone engaged in a complex group task)

The other day, I had the pleasure of participating in a 1-day session with a diverse group of education stakeholders; teachers, students, principals, admins, policymakers, university profs, parents, consultants, private sector people, etc. A full day talking about barriers, need for change, leadership, courage… you know, all sorts of fun edu stuff. As it’s often the case for this type of session, each person was randomly assigned to a table of 8 for a day of animated conversations and debate. At the start, each one of us kind of felt a little stranger to the rest of the group. Morning chat, with coffee and fruit, trying to know a little about your table neighbors before the activities start. And we’re off!

Fast-forward: after lunch. That time of day where well-intentioned spirits and minds sort of slow down a little. We have discussed, exchanged, tweeted, debated, listened to everyone’s stories and views on a wide array of issues, for close to 5 hours now. In this last segment/activity (before concluding for the day) the moderators, sensing the challenge to sustain engagement, propose an unusual and frankly quite pleasant twist: “Let’s put our intellects away and put on our creative/artistic hats for this one : have each table tell us a story, in whatever form or format, about what it takes to remove barriers for sustainable change in education. No further instructions, Go! See you in 20 minutes!”  Okaaaay… small group dynamics start to kick in all over the room. One table is thinking small sketch, another one to sing a song and that other table, well, who knows, seems off the wall but really cool.

At my table, major brainstorming: Let’s emphasize the notion of Trust. Yeah, good one. Umm, can’t we do better than listing on a paper flipchart? Absolutely, but what? We’re now standing up around our table and get our creative juices flowing. I then come up with the suggestion of using Vine, these 6-second videos, where each one would say to the camera an element related to our ideas expressed here. Oh wait, we could do an iRecorder filming of each one expressing something, using a common lead-off sentence, put it together in Audacity, add background music, upload to Youtube and voilà, a short compelling story done in record time. Just like Darren Kuropatwa did in a session I attended last week in Manitoba. He made it look so easy and accessible. Enthusiasm and curiosity rises around the table. Except…

And that is the beginning of a superb learning experience for me…

You see, our diverse group of 8 was comprised of tech-savvy, tech-interested and non-tech folks. Normal distribution, even for a small number. At that moment, someone strongly objected to this idea because that person did not want to be filmed, and even less have this posted online. Knee jerk thought in my mind: why won’t you do like the rest of the group? Everyone thinks it’s a good idea! But then, another idea is expressed, quickly supported by someone across the table from me: OK, instead why don’t we show our story on paper, fancy letters and drawings, by filming it in a 30-second Instagram video and tweeting it with the session hashtag, to be shown to everyone on the room’s large screens? No faces, just the words and images we want to emphasize. Let’s do it. The person who objected to be filmed has a clear change of attitude and engages completely in our group task. Here we go…

This is our little story:

Trust video Instagram CEA-ACE

(The link to the Instagram video is here.)

Shfting that person’s attention from images OF him/her to images BY him/her and the group made a huge difference and we all had fun completing this within 15 minutes. I guess some people (maybe I’m not quite from that lot) remain unwilling to tell or share their own stories, even in today’s hyperconnected world where user-generated content is put online, quick and easy (or maybe because of it). Because a small imperfect video is not about them personnally, these people can become suddenly very engaged and willing to share.

They become part of the design. Engagement, that can lead to empowerment.

Isn’t that a basic element to understand about us learning? By taking care of the socio-affective, the brain opens up on the cognitive. And in a group, as it was the case here, an individual not being stigmatized by the others. Au contaire, a contributing player as we co-constructed knowledge to be shared with everyone else. Just as we want to see happening with groups of students, in all its diversities.

Hey, even a group of 2 is heterogeneous.

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